Books·Magic 8 Q&A

The advice Douglas Coupland wants to give to every aspiring writer

The Canadian author and artist answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Douglas Coupland is the author of Bit Rot. (Mark Peckmezian)

Douglas Coupland's game-changing novel Generation X turned 25 in 2016, and we feel old now. His other books include Hey Nostradamus!jPodThe Gum Thief and Bit Rot and art has appeared in the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. 

Below, Coupland answers eight questions submitted by eight of his fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.

1. Marie-Claire Blais asks, "What is, for you, the spiritual aspect of writing?"

I think what happens with writing for me, but I think it's all writers, is that you discover things about yourself along the way; emotions that were buried or concealed, or feelings you had or didn't have for somebody. It all percolates out. Writing a book is like a protracted trance and part of being in a trance is mystery. You don't know what will be revealed or what won't be revealed. That's what I think is the spiritual side of it.

2. Robert Wiersema asks, "If you could give one piece of advice to a fledgling writer, what would it be, and why?"

I think good advice for any writer, but also a young writer, is to make sure that you're always in the same place every day because that's the only way it's going to happen. I think writers are kind of like birds; if you see a bird on a branch at 3:30 in the afternoon it will be there the next afternoon at 3:30. They are very much creatures of habit. I think writers are as well. You can't be capricious. You really have to put yourself in a place every single day.

3. JJ Lee asks, "Superman or Batman?"

I never got into superhero comics. I always liked horror comics and, to an extent, Archie. If Superman and Batman were both run over a bus, I suppose I'd miss Superman more.

4. Rudy Wiebe asks, "Who helped you most in becoming a writer? How?"

I was very lucky. The first writer I ever worked with was Malcolm Parry, who was with Vancouver Magazine back in the late 1980s. He'd been there eight years at that point. Famously, he read a postcard I'd written on someone's fridge and said, "We've going to call this guy. He's got to write for us." So he called and I wasn't a writer then. Three days later I was down in Beverly Hills investigating this art swindler and I enjoyed every minute of it. I got — and I apologize to all currently working journalists — a really large cheque. They used to give them out back then. It became a really great way of funding my sculpture work because everything in sculpture is so expensive. Mac just kept going, "What are you doing this month? What are you doing next month?" About 16 months after I went down to Beverly Hills, I started writing fiction. It happened very quickly. So, Parry, you're probably out there somewhere, maybe driving a car — don't crash! — but I thank you very much for everything you've done for me.

There is also Anne Collins here in Toronto, who's been my book editor for, oh my Lord, 18 years now. I mean, she knows more about me than anyone on earth practically. She nurses me through the hard times and is able to share the joys and the downers of writing.

5. Gary Barwin asks, "How or where does a piece of writing begin for you?"

I think with novels it's sort of like the annunciation. I'll be wherever, walking or sitting or flying, and "Oh, that's the book." Maybe it's like realizing you're pregnant. After that, I think about it for a little bit and I write in one direction. I don't cut or paste or anything. I use this holy term, annunciation, because I don't know why it is that you just realize one day, "Oh! Pregnant with a new book."

6. Linda Spalding asks, "What moves you to tears?"

Heroism and children.

7. Eric McCormack asks, "Honestly, what does your writing tell you — both the good and the bad — about yourself?"

Growing up we were always taught, in the future you're going to have six, seven or eight different jobs. That's correct, but we didn't get it right in the sense that we thought it was going to be one job, then you move to another and then another. Nowadays, you have seven different jobs and they're all happening at once. You have to be a writer, you've got to be a photographer and you have to be a web programmer. You've got to do all these things that in the past have taken seven or eight people, and now it's just a given. So writing, and everything that goes with it, tells me that I'm adaptable and that's a good thing.

What does it tell me that's bad? A few characters I've written, I won't say who, I've just basically stolen someone I know. I don't know if that's theft; it's more like a soul theft. I feel a little bit guilty when I do that.

8. Alison Pick asks, "How would you most like to be remembered?"

This is one of the great schisms of our day. We all want the right to be forgotten, but then we all want to be remembered and we can't have it both ways. How would I like to be remembered? Maybe like some great cosmic website in the sky. I'd like to own the cloud. I'd like to be the cloud.

I don't know. There's that old Bob Hope joke from the 1950s that goes, "Mr. Hope, Mr. Hope, where do you want to be buried?" And he says, "Surprise me!" So I guess that's my answer: surprise me.

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